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EHEI Award: Process Improvements

Sellwood Bridge


Photo of new bridge concept with vehicles, commuter train, wide sidewalsk, and bike lanes.
Rendering of multimodal transportation
on the new Sellwood Bridge.
Credit: Multnomah County, OR

Graphic of flow chart
Multnomah County developed a process to
bring together divergent agency and public
agendas for the design and replacement of Sellwood Bridge.
Credit: Multnomah County, OR

The Sellwood Bridge project, in Portland, Oregon, involved collaboration between multiple agencies to replace an aging bridge with a modern structure that would support multimodal transportation. The project was led by Multnomah County and supported by Clackamas County, the city of Portland, the Oregon Department of Transportation, Metro, and TriMet, and will lead to the upgrade of an obsolete but busy two-lane structure that will accommodate nonmotorized transportation options, transit, freight, and emergency vehicles. The modernized bridge will also support nearby communities and businesses. Multnomah County engaged the project partners to develop a solution through a National Environmental Policy Act alternatives analysis process. The goal of this process was to build public and agency consensus around an actionable plan that addressed safety and transportation needs, reflected community values, and demonstrated environmental stewardship.

Originally built in 1925, the Sellwood Bridge across the Willamette River had become the busiest two-lane bridge in Oregon by 2010. The bridge itself was a historic resource protected under Section 4(f) of the Department of Transportation Act of 1966, and was near an historic cemetery, home, and trolley line, as well as three public parks, and endangered fish species habitat. A landslide had caused the bridge to sag and crack, and weight limits were imposed on travel lanes to extend the bridge's life. Restrictions were also placed on buses, emergency vehicles, and large freight service on the bridge. In addition, the bridge was not wide enough for modern uses, with two narrow vehicle lanes, no shoulders for emergency service, and a single four-foot-wide sidewalk that created conflicts between cyclists and pedestrians. The bridge had become a bottleneck on a regionally significant commuter corridor.

Multnomah County designed a structured decisionmaking process to bring stakeholders together through the creation of a Community Task Force (CTF), which included comprehensive agency and community representation. Bridge stakeholders had widely divergent concerns about the location, scale, and features desired in a new bridge, which the CTF structure helped to address. The CTF assured buy-in from the public, agency stakeholders, and elected officials at each key project milestone and encouraged input from all stakeholders on the structure of the alternatives evaluation process, the development of alternatives, and the eventual selection of a preferred alternative. The objectivity and transparency of the process ensured meaningful public involvement and helped to sustain forward momentum. The preferred design alternative for replacing Sellwood Bridge was unanimously selected by the CTF.

The bridge design included two 12-foot travel lanes, sidewalks, and two six-foot lanes for bicycle and emergency use. The new multimodal structure was designed to accommodate future streetcar system expansion and bus service. The design also considered Sellwood Bridge's status as a Section 4(f) historic site and the surrounding historical, recreational, and environmental resources. By emphasizing public participation and interagency partnerships throughout the design and development process, the Sellwood Bridge project achieved a high level of coordination and collaboration between diverse stakeholders. This cooperative effort produced plans for an appropriate and environmentally-sensitive structure that is set to begin construction in 2012.

For more information, contact Michelle Eruat, Federal Highway Administration, Oregon Division, at

Photo of dangerous intersection on bridge with cars and bicyclists
Sellwood Bridge before redesign and replacement.
The old bridge design resulted in frequent conflicts
between vehicles and pedestrians.
Credit: Multnomah County, OR

Closeup photo of crumbling rockwork (concrete) on old bridge
The deteriorated physical condition of the
86-year-old bridge required weight
restrictions and necessitated eventual replacement.
Credit: Multnomah County, OR
Updated: 06/27/2017
Updated: 6/27/2017
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